There’s just a month until the North East’s first charity web hackathon, Webdurance. The anticipation is building. If you’re not aware of the event, it’s a 24 hour website building challenge in which volunteers, including myself, get shut away in a big room and produce complete websites for 6 local charities. And we drink lots of coffee. And eat cakes.
Almost without exception charity websites are a dreadful mix of application produced HTML (eg Frontpage) that’s completely opaque to search engines, poorly executed and illogical navigation, and “clever” features that don’t actually work. Consequently the mentality of charity organisers has often been a combination of fear and trepidation when they’re tasked with redeveloping the charity’s online presence. With a tiny, often non-existent, budget it’s incredibly hard to get the most out of what the web can potentially bring to a good cause.
This is what Webdurance is going to change.
Organised by the brothers behind the brilliant North East time and expenses tracking start-up 1DayLater, Paul and David King, with help from PR whizz Ester Laverick et al, I think it’s going to be a turning point in the online life of the charities involved. There’s no good reason why the North East’s pool of very capable web talent can’t create some amazing software in a day. I’m excited.
The event itself should be an interesting exercise too. Being thrown into a new team, developing your communication and team working skills, and showing off your coding, illustration or copy writing skills sounds brilliant to me. I’m sure management theorists would throw terms like “adhocracy” out to describe what will result. Will it be that organised? It’s going to be a laugh finding out.
If you haven’t signed up already please do. It’s a worthwhile way to spend a day. Plus, there’s cakes.
Part of the new digital media economy is the burgeoning world of mobile website development. I’ve been a part of it since the days of WAP and WMLScript. If you’ve got a copy of Wrox Press’ “Beginning WAP, WML and WMLScript” from 2001 you’ll see my name in the front. I think that was my 15 minutes of fame. I think I failed to capitalise on that one. Anyway.
We’ve all got smart phones and ipods of some denomination or other, some of us have portable games consoles that can access the internet, and there are a swathe of weird and wonderful web browser enabled cameras, watches, and other gizmos around the corner. We can view the internet whereever we go. We do too. It’s not a fad or a phase like WAP was, something that was nice but ultimately not particularly usable, it’s something that people really do use. You might see people checking out their Facebook timeline in Starbucks, looking at cinema times on the bus, and browsing a company website in the park. It’s real and it’s here to stay.
You might expect, considering that Newcastle has more digital agencies than any other UK city outside of London, that we would be the forge of mobile content here in the North East. Alas no. Browsing the websites of some of the city’s agencies looking for examples of why a client shouldn’t head to the capital for their mobile website is disheartening at best, although “*&$!ing shambolic” might be a more apt description. With a single exception, no agency website tested on an iPhone 3G had tailored their content for the most common mobile browsing platform. A hearty congratulations to Better Brand Agency for being the only one to bother. Very well done.
The worst offenders fail to load any content. I know Flash appears to be a ubiquitous platform for rich internet content but failing to provide anything for viewers who choose not to see Flash content is a surprising failure today.
Better Brand Agency on an iPhone:
Better Brand Agency have achieved their iPhone tailoring using a straightforward WordPress plugin that automatically changes the HTML code sent to mobile browsers. For a blog it’s an eminently sensible approach – there’s minimal time spent on tailoring (although that advantage is tempered by the fact there’s no custom snazzy bits), it’s easy to do, and for most agency websites it’s all that’s needed.
Mere Mortals on an iPhone:
The Roundhouse on an iPhone:
Both Mere Mortals and The Roundhouse have taken an approach to their websites that’s probably sensible for their business, but it’s disappointing to see and it gives me the impression that they’re either uninterested in, or not capable of, fulfilling mobile website development commissions.
Komodo on an iPhone:
The majority of agency websites are exactly the same between the desktop and the mobile browser. It’s a compromise that works well enough if you’re not interested in developing something specifically for phone users but it’s very limiting and, in my case at least, puts a user off looking further into the site. Telephone numbers, directions and contact information that should be considered essential is hard to access.
Robson Brown’s site, even with it’s navigation and contact information is small and hard to prod at with a finger on a phone, is actually quite an interesting case study in mobile development. Due to it’s design with large text and few images, it’s actually quite usable on a mobile browser. This might have been a conscious decision, and if so it should get a courteous nod, it’s a step in the right direction.
I think there might be a good business opportunity for opening an agency that can provide a good mobile site to the North East’s decision makers. Watch this space. Maybe.
First and foremost, welcome to the new blog. Thank you for taking the time to read what I hope will build into a reasonably comprehensive archive of my thoughts about the future of the internet, and more specifically web site development.
I am Chris Neale. I was a web developer for a little over a decade before deciding to stop hacking code for a living and take on some other, more entertaining projects. In the main they’ve been quite successful so far. I’ve had a lot of fun over the past six months and I’ve no intention of heading back to an office any time soon unless the exactly right opportunity arises.
During my 10 and a bit years of developing reasonably advanced internet technologies I came to a number of conclusions about the problems that face clients and developers in the modern internet age. From starting out hand-coding HTML for a large university, through building all the usual guestbooks and contact forms for small business clients, and on to designing and developing online applications for well-funded start-ups dealing with millions of pounds of sales through e-commerce and call centres, I’ve seen the same issues over and over again. Without exception they come down to one of three things;
- A lack of understanding of the online world on the part of the client.
- A lack of understanding of business processes on the part of the web developer.
- A lack of communication between client and developer or client and customer.
They’re all entirely solvable issues. In fact, they’re trivial. With the right application of expertise on both sides, and proper communication between all parties there are no reasons why websites need roll out with the problems that they so often have.
Over the next month I am going to outline what I see as some of the more problematic issues that websites have, what can be done to solve them if they’re already in a website, and what can be done by everyone involved in website development to avoid them happening in the future. I hope you come back to read them.